A blood product transfusion is a very common and safe procedure. Blood that has been collected from one person (a donor) is placed into a special bag for storage and then transferred into your child’s blood stream when required.
The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood collects blood from volunteer donors and has very high safety standards. All blood donations are checked to determine the donor's blood group (ABO) and to check for infections or viruses in the donated blood.
The blood product is slowly administered directly into your child’s vein through a drip (intravenous or IV therapy).
Why does my child need a blood product transfusion?
Some children require a single blood transfusion and others require many. Blood product transfusions are given for a number of reasons, including:
- to replace blood lost during surgery
- after trauma (e.g. after an injury that causes a lot of bleeding)
- when the body can't make enough blood itself.
If your child needs a blood product transfusion, your doctor will discuss with you:
- why they think your child needs a transfusion
- the likely benefits
- any risks
- if there are any alternatives.
You will be asked to sign a consent form to allow your child to have a blood product transfusion. You can ask questions and discuss any concerns you may have with the doctor before you agree to your child having the transfusion.
In an emergency, the doctor may have to give your child a blood transfusion urgently. There may not be time to have this discussion with you first.
Different blood products
Often whole blood is collected and then separated into different blood products, and your child will only be given the part of blood that they need.
- Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body and give blood its red colour.
- Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. This product is yellow in colour.
- Fresh frozen plasma (FFP) is yellow in colour and contains clotting factors that work with platelets to stop bleeding.
Sometimes FFP is separated into other blood products, including:
- Albumin, which is given to help maintain fluid levels in children who are unwell
- Immunoglobulins, which are given when the immune system isn’t functioning properly, or to treat autoimmune diseases (see our fact sheet Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) infusion)
- Clotting factors, which are given when children have low levels of one or more clotting factors.
What to expect with a blood product transfusion
Your child will need a blood test, called a blood group and antibody screen, to match their blood type to a suitable blood product.
Unless your child already has one, an IV will be inserted into a vein, which may cause some brief pain and discomfort. If your child is distressed or uncomfortable, you can try distracting them using some of the techniques in our fact sheet
Reducing your child's discomfort during procedures.
Before the blood product transfusion begins, two nurses will check that the details on your child's wristband (full name and date of birth) exactly match those on the blood product. You may be asked to participate in this check. This will happen each time, even if your child needs many blood
A blood product transfusion can take up to four hours. A pump may be used to ensure the blood product is delivered over the correct time frame.
Most children feel comfortable and no different to usual during their transfusion; however, they may become bored or restless. If your child is going into hospital to have a transfusion as a day procedure, it is a good idea to bring in a smartphone, tablet, MP3 player or books to keep your
What are the risks?
A few children may get a fever or a rash during their blood product transfusion. These can be treated with medication so that your child is more comfortable. Let nursing staff know if your child starts to feel unwell in any way or if you are concerned.
Very rarely, more serious side effects can occur, such as:
- shortness of breath or wheezing
- tongue/throat swelling
- chest tightness
- low blood pressure
- fast heart rate
Your child will be carefully monitored during the transfusion. Nurses will frequently check their temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.
The risk of contracting a virus or infection from the blood product transfusion is extremely low.
Key points to remember
- Unless it is an emergency, your doctor will speak with you about why your child needs a blood transfusion and ask for your consent before it begins.
- Most children feel comfortable and no different at all during the transfusion.
- Nursing staff will monitor your child carefully, and can treat your child if they develop a fever or a rash during the transfusion.
- Severe reactions to blood transfusions are rare and the risk of contracting a virus or infection from the blood product is extremely rare.
For more information
Common questions our doctors are asked
What are the alternatives to having a blood transfusion?
Your child's doctor will explain if there are any
alternatives to blood transfusion that may be suitable for your child. These
may include taking medicine to help the body replace its own blood, or during
some surgical procedures your child's own blood may be collected, washed and
returned to them.
Will the blood product transfusion hurt?
In order to access your child's bloodstream, an
IV will need to be inserted, using a needle. This causes brief pain and
discomfort. Once the transfusion is underway, your child will not feel anything
happening, and they should feel no different to normal.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Blood Management Committee. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed January 2023.
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